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Public hearing: Inquiry into Medicare Levy Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme Funding) Bill 2017 and 10 related bills

Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive

Good morning

Thank you for the invitation to set out for you why the Group of Eight, Australia’s leading research universities – in fact the group which funds $6 billion of research each year – more than $2 billion of that which is used for medical and health research – is so opposed to the removal of money from the EIF.

The Go8 starts from the position that it fully supports an NDIS.

It is worthy policy, and overdue.

As a nation, we should be proud it was constructed and is now being implemented with the support of successive governments.

However, it is always basic, good Budget management, that such important public policy be funded, in a carefully advance-planned way, as befits the programs it is designed to provide.

Clearly it has not been – and a proposal to use funds earmarked for higher education infrastructure – and critically for research infrastructure – is short-sighted and damaging.

The Government is taking the quick and short-term route by attempting to close EIF down and divert monies from the very fund that supports the nation’s research capability.

But the effects will be anything but short term. The EIF monies will not solve the funding of NDIS – it is equivalent to less than a fifth of a year’s funding at full cost for the NDIS – but will critically undermine the next decade of Australian research.

The Government’s own Review of Research Infrastructure led by the former Chair of EIF – Mr Philip Clark AM, recommended a strategic plan for research infrastructure with EIF funding being leveraged to establish a $6.6 billion perpetual endowment fund.

Without EIF funding there is no long-term plan for sustainable infrastructure support.

And we very much hope that this is all becoming apparent to the public, and that the community sees it for what it is – a damaging policy decision with long-term ramifications.

If there is one message I wish to impart this morning – it is that please do not ignore what the EIF has and can deliver for Australia, including those who may or do suffer disability.

Since 2009 the EIF has allocated $4.207 billion in infrastructure funding. Of this $1.258 billion, or 30 per cent, went to Go8 institutions in support of 30 cutting edge research and education infrastructure projects.

Through this support, EIF has made possible major advances in health and medical research including –

  • Research into the causes of autism spectrum disorder. This research is being undertaken at the EIF funded Centre for Neural Engineering at the University of Melbourne.
  • The development of a brain chip that can potentially repair brain injury and reverse neurological damage. This brain chip would not have been possible without the type of advanced nanofabrication facilities EIF has supported at ANU.
  • New orthopaedic implants that can speed healing of wrist fractures. This research has come out of the EIF funded Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing at Adelaide University.

​The EIF has also enabled other social and economic benefits including through profits and industry growth that contribute to the public purse.

  • Through the EIF-funded national supercomputer at the ANU, we have weather predictions that enable vital planning for major events such as storms, flooding and bushfires – as well as assisting farmers to maximise their yields and manage risks.
  • Through the development of new and advanced crop varieties that can withstand extreme weather and are disease resistant
  • Through cutting-edge quantum computing research being done in Australia, including the development of a silicon quantum computer, which builds on availability of advanced nanofabrication capabilities (Australian Nano Fabrication Facility)
In research engaged teaching and learning the EIF has also supported:
  • World class veterinary science facilities at University of Queensland and an economic boost to the Lockyer Valley through collaboration with the beef and dairy industries.
  • The Charles Perkins Centre – the home for the University of Sydney’s Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease
  • A joint health education facility at Port Macquarie involving UNSW, the University of Newcastle and North Coast TAFE
  • The Peter Doherty Institute for infection and immunity in Melbourne – a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital (joint teaching and research)
  • Advanced chemical sciences teaching facilities at ANU
  • The Tyree Energy Technologies Building at UNSW which, in addition to teaching and learning spaces, supports advanced photovoltaics and nanotechnology research

​The Government’s own recent announcement of an Australian space agency will rely heavily on the advanced capability we have courtesy of strategic EIF investments in space and astronomy infrastructure to become a reality.

Looking forward, research infrastructure will be needed to support the Medical Research Future Fund in achieving health outcomes for all Australians. By the end of the Forward Estimates the MRFF will support $643 million of additional medical and health research translation activity benefiting all Australians. This figure is expected to reach $1 billion when the MRFF attains full capitalisation.

As you can see, the EIF is not some mysterious fund the demise of which will not leave a ripple.

It is the exact opposite.

It is a fund which is an imperative component in the delivery of research outcomes in Australia – particularly in health and medical research.

It seems to the Universities I represent here today, that universities are all too often the low hanging fruit, when a Government is after funding sacrifice.

Without dwelling on the funding cuts yet to be debated in the Senate – there has to be a time when enough is enough in terms of cuts to our national knowledge and research assets.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul, as closing EIF to plug an NDIS funding-hole most definitely is, can never end well.

We ask you to not let that happen.

This Committee is being asked to make a judgement call on the importance of one budget priority over another.

That is an untenable public policy position and we strongly urge the Committee to recommend that the Bill be amended to exclude the abolition of the EIF and to include a provision for new legislation which quarantines the Education Infrastructure Fund.

Media contact: Vicki Thomson Group of Eight Chief Executive on +61 417 808 472


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